The government's handling of the Queen's Pier controversy is in line with pledges made by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen during his recent reelection campaign to lead the new administration in the process of development and conservation, according to a government source.
"The government's repositioning is to take the lead and stand on high moral ground regarding heritage preservation after having learned a bitter lesson from the Star Ferry saga," the source said.
"We need to have the legitimate grounds that we lacked during the Star Ferry row. Some may argue that granting Queen's Pier Grade One status and making it a building of outstanding historical merit is going too far. But our well-prepared strategy is to grant more liberty to the Antiquities Advisory Board, a body we depend on to tackle conservation issues across the territory."
The move, however, has surprised and embarrassed some pro-government lawmakers who have adopted a conservative stance. The source argued: "But it's necessary for us to pave way for possible future tussles at district levels over heritage conservation.
"The Grade One merit for Queen's Pier will allow it more room concerning the issue of relocation. Now, greater care will be needed in restoring this prime historic site. More importantly, the government will have better bargaining power on its relocation in Central."
Environmental activists could demand it stay where it was.
The government's new tack "is a move in the right direction, a move that should help prevent similar controversies in future that could undermine the government's authority," the source said.